She breaks with Pataki and invites rent-control activists into her office

SARAH METZGAR Capitol bureau
Albany Times Union, May 21, 1997

ALBANY -- Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross, persona non grata in the administration of Gov. George Pataki, pushed the envelope even further on Tuesday.

The ostracized lieutenant governor, breaking with Pataki's rent-law stance, invited tenant activists into her Capitol office on Tuesday.

``They should be welcome here,'' McCaughey Ross told reporters.

Tenants, mostly from the New York City area, held a rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday and met with lawmakers in the Legislative Office Building. But the Capitol itself was a veritable fortress, and the pink-hatted activists were kept out of the building by scores of police officers.

But McCaughey Ross invited a dozen protesters up to her office, off the Senate chamber on the third floor of the Capitol. Most of her visitors wore anti-Pataki stickers, and a couple wore anti-Pataki T-shirts.

McCaughey Ross, who has already been given notice by Pataki that she will be dumped from his re-election campaign next year, has publicly broken with Pataki's plan to phase out the state's rent laws. A Republican from New York City, she says a phase-out would create a city of only the rich, and adds the issue should be decided by New York City officials.

``Albany politicians will not make a fair decision, because special interests have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence lawmakers to vote against rent regulations,'' she said. ``And many of them will never have to stand accountable to the families affected by a change in the law.''

Reporters confronted McCaughey Ross about statements she made in 1995 to a landlord group, in which she said she favored ``vacancy decontrol'' -- the phase-out that Pataki espouses now.

``That may be,'' she said. ``But (since then) I've heard both sides and done substantial research.''

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican who wants to abolish the rent laws, blasted McCaughey Ross and claimed she was acting only out of political expediency. McCaughey Ross is considering a run for elective office, but hasn't yet announced which office.

``She's trying to be on the right side of everything, and she winds up on the wrong side of everything,'' Bruno said.

The tenant activists, saying New York City would turn into Beverly Hills or ``Beirut after the war'' without rent protections, told the exiled lieutenant governor they admired her independent spirit. ``A politician should be independent. Moral. I'm very proud of you,'' said Bennett Levy, who lives in a rent-regulated apartment in upper Manhattan.

Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon, asked if he had anything to say about the lieutenant governor's latest maneuver, had a one-word answer: ``No.''